Cheng Li: Inheritor of the Bamboo Weaving Craft

October 20, 2010
Editor: Sun Xi

Anna Chan Chennault, journalist and founder and chairperson of the National Republican Asian Assembly, was among the throng at the recent opening of the Folk Art Skills Teaching and Learning Area section of the China Intangible Heritage Expo.

Part of the Shanghai National Folk and Cultural Art Exhibition, the China Intangible Heritage Expo is on Chengshan Road, near entrance no. 6 of the Shanghai World Expo site. Chennault was fascinated with the folk handicrafts on display there. She paid particular attention to the bamboo artworks on exhibit from the Cloud Bamboo Gallery, and to the demonstrations that Cheng Li, founder and proprietress of the gallery, gave of the meticulous weaving process. After talking to Cheng Li and taking her time to stroll around the gallery, Chennault wrote and dedicated to Cheng the inscription 'Boundless Prospects.'

Cheng Li: Inheritor of the Bamboo Weaving Craft

Cheng Li introduces the bamboo weaving craft.[by Zhang Yulong/]

Chennault's patronage added impetus to the flow of visitors to the Cloud Bamboo gallery and also put Cheng Li in the media limelight.

Although gratified by the interest in her works Chennault's visit generated, Cheng took it in her stride, seeing it as just one of many tributes to the bamboo woven art. Her family in southwestern Sichuan Province has produced bamboo handicrafts for generations. As inheritor of this traditional folk art, prolonging and promoting it is her life's mission.

Cheng Li: Inheritor of the Bamboo Weaving Craft

Cheng Li displays her flat bamboo weaving works.[by Zhang Yulong/]

Cheng's home is in Sichuan's Qingshen County, where quality bamboo is abundant. The products her ancestors produced reached their peak of popularity in the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when they were in high demand among local high officials to present as tributes to the Emperor.

Cheng learned the bamboo weaving craft from her father Cheng Yunhua, as he did from her grandfather. With Cheng Yunhua's help, she opened the Cloud Bamboo Gallery in Shanghai ten years ago. Her aim was to introduce this aspect of China's intangible cultural heritages to residents of Shanghai and to the domestic and overseas visitors to the municipality.

Handicraft experts and scholars from Taiwan and Macau, Hong Kong and overseas have been among the many visitors to her gallery at the Shanghai National Folk and Cultural Art Exhibition.

Cheng Li: Inheritor of the Bamboo Weaving Craft

Cheng Li displays the bamboo weaving process.[by Zhang Yulong/]

A replica of the famous Song Dynasty Riverside Scene at the Pure Brightness Festival, traditional pictures depicting mountains and rivers, a portrait of Confucius and images of five water buffalo, a tiger and many others that have been fashioned out of varying densities of hair-fine bamboo hang on the walls of Cheng Li's Cloud Bamboo Gallery.

Cheng demonstrates in her workshop the entire process of splitting the bamboo into strips, drawing out the filaments and weaving them into an image.

"The bamboo used to make these pictures is of the neosinocalamus affinis species that grows on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau. It takes around 50 kg of bamboo to produce 50 grams of filaments," Cheng said.
The three main methods of bamboo weaving are those of flat, three-dimensional and bamboo-over-porcelain ware. Among them, flat bamboo weaving is the technique used to replicate famous paintings and works of calligraphy and also to create striking horizontal and vertically-hung scrolls and hanging and free-standing panels. Apart from their aesthetic impact, bamboo woven artworks are also valued for their resistance to mould and decay and lastingly vibrant colors.

Cheng Li: Inheritor of the Bamboo Weaving Craft

Bamboo-over-porcelain ware works in Cheng Li's Cloud Bamboo Gallery [by Zhang Yulong/]

Both the specialists and lay appreciators of bamboo artworks who come to the Cloud Bamboo Gallery comment on their visual impact. Many of Cheng's works have featured on CCTV programs, in People's Daily articles and other media, and won gold awards at national and international exhibitions. Professor Paola Ronco of UNESCO said of Cheng's craft: "It is a miracle within the history of bamboo weaving, and an art beyond art." Director General of INBAR (International Network for Bamboo and Rattan) Ian Hunter described the bamboo weaving of The Riverside Scene at the Pure Brightness Festival as a phenomenal work of art.

In June, 2008, bamboo weaving was designated state-level intangible cultural heritage.

"The bamboo art works in the Cloud Bamboo Gallery are generally regarded as outstanding,"Professor Liu Youde, vice-director of Shanghai Citizen Exposition said. "This historical craft is a priceless treasure."

Cheng's passion for bamboo artworks has motivated her to teach, as well as exhibit it, the craft. The Shanghai World Expo has brought it to art lovers of the world.

"I don't mind making the long journey each day from my home to the exposition to show my works and demonstrate bamboo weaving, because I relish the chance to share my passion with so many others" Cheng said.

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